Holy Women of the New Testament

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women at the tomb
Women at the tomb

Picture courtesy of lavistachurchofchrist.org

A number of women in the New Testament are commemorated on particular days in the year in their own right or in association with special events. This includes Mary the mother of Jesus, Elizabeth his relative and mother of John the Baptist his cousin, Mary Magdalene, and Mary and Martha of Bethany. But there are many others some we know of by name and others existence we can infer, though their names are not recorded. Groups of women and individuals are mentioned in the Gospels (Matthew 9:20-22; 14:21; 15:22; 26:7-13; Mark 1:31; Luke 13:11-13; John 4:7-26), and in Acts we hear of women as well as men imprisoned for their faith (Acts 8:3; 9:2).

Women appear and are named at important events in the Gospels. Mary of Bethany sat at his feet as a disciple and anointed him for his death. The women at the tomb are charged with announcing the resurrection to the disciples, especially Mary Magdalene. Mary and others had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to his needs, and had come to perform what they must have thought would be their final service to him, their number included Salome, mother of the sons of Zebedee, Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward, and Susanna are among those who had been healed and then provided out of their own means for Jesus and the Twelve. So the Gospels report that women disciples played key roles, not just in a supportive capacity during the ministry, but as those to whom was entrusted the supreme message of Jesus’ resurrection.

In the life of the early church, women played important parts that are all too easily over-looked. Romans 16 gives evidence of the extent and depth of female participation and leader-ship in the apostolic church. Phoebe (Romans 16:1) is the only person identified as a deacon in the New Testament, and clearly exercised an especially valuable ministry at Cenchreae, the Corinthian port. Prisca (Priscilla) and her husband Aquila (Romans 16:3) were among the most prominent of Paul’s fellow-workers, and Prisca, who is usually mentioned first, was presumably the more active. Expelled as Jews from Rome, they met Paul in Corinth and were left by him at Ephesus, where they catechised the convert, Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). Their reputation was such that all the Gentile churches gave thanks for them (1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19). Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7) were probably husband and wife (Junia is a common Roman name for a woman; the masculine “Junias”, as frequently printed, is otherwise un-known). Both husband and wife, then, are outstanding apostles, having become Christians before Paul himself. Paul lists other friends (16:8-15), including several women, but we know nothing about them beyond their names: Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother Julia, and Nereus’ sister.

Other women disciples besides Prisca had churches gather in their homes: Mary, mother of John Mark, at Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), and Nympha at Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois are also held up as examples of faith (2 Timothy 1:5). So there are many women who “struggled hard in the work of the gospel . . . whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3), demonstrating in practice that men and women are equal in Christ.